As time passes, it would stand to reason that teams would start coming closer to defeating the Carolina Panthers at Ericsson Stadium. Instead, the opposite is happening.
Already established as a strong second-half team at home, Carolina extended its dominance to four quarters Sunday and produced the franchise's first shutout ever. The Panthers kept Trent Dilfer on the run and converted three of his turnovers into 21 points on the way to a 24-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"We have a lot of pride in defending this stadium," linebacker Sam Mills said after the Panthers won for the sixth time in as many games in their new $187 million facility.
The victory kept Carolina (9-4) solidly in the hunt to become the only second-year expansion team in NFL history to make the playoffs. Next up for the Panthers is a road game against the 49ers on Sunday, with the winner likely getting the NFC West title.
"This gives us some momentum heading into our showdown with San Francisco," Coach Dom Capers said. "The feeling on our team is we've not accomplished anything yet. We're looking forward to playing our best football over the next three weeks."
The Panthers came into the game having given up only 10 points in the second half all season at home. But on a rainy, windy afternoon, Dilfer and the Buccaneers couldn't generate much offense in either half.
Dilfer was intercepted twice, lost one fumble, was sacked five times and knocked down 13 times as Tampa Bay (4-9) lost for the first time in four games.
"Man, what a blast," said linebacker Kevin Greene, who had five tackles, one sack and recovered a fumble. "Rooting around, having fun--it was like a hog going at a sweet potato in the middle of the mud."
Anthony Johnson rushed for 111 yards and one touchdown for Carolina, which has outscored its opponents, 167-50, at home this season. In the second half, the Panthers have scored 76 points while giving up 10.
Tampa Bay did not get inside the Panther 35 until the final play of the third quarter, but four consecutive incomplete passes killed the drive.
"Basically we lost today's game like we did early on in the season by self-destructing," Dilfer said.